The Bundy-led seizure of a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon has once again thrust ranching into the public light, and not necessarily a good light. If the Bundy name is familiar, it’s the same clan that held federal officials at gunpoint in Nevada a few years back in a disagreement over grazing rights and fees on public lands.
The Oregon situation has its roots in a federal case against Oregon ranchers Dwight and Steve Hammond, who were convicted in 2012 of burning 136 acres of Bureau of Land Management land on which they held the grazing rights. Last October, the Hammonds were sentenced to five years in federal prison. According to the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, the Hammonds reported to federal prison on January 4 to begin their sentences.
Both the Bundy seizure and the Hammond case are too complicated to delve into detail here. However, surfacing in the whole debate is a reasoned voice from Keith Nantz, manager at Dillon Land and Cattle in Maupin, Ore. “While I don’t agree with the occupiers’ tactics, I sympathize with their position,” Nantz wrote in an op-ed article that ran in The Washington Post January 8.
“Being a rancher is always challenging. And it has become increasingly difficult under the Obama administration,” he explained.
Nantz describes his passion for ranching and the hard work and effort it takes to be successful. He then describes the particular difficulties that public lands ranchers face when dealing with federal agencies.
“I saw this play out firsthand when the federal government considered listing the sage grouse, a chicken-like bird, as endangered. That regulation would have shrunk the amount of land where ranchers could graze cattle, putting many out of business and decimating the industry. To avoid this, ranchers like myself and local officials spent months meeting with federal officials looking for compromise. We ultimately found middle ground. But we already have an enormous workload in our daily lives. The pressure of having to drop everything to lobby against a rule (which happens more often than you’d think) is a tremendous burden,” he writes.
“It’s not that I don’t care what the environmental community wants. In every part of my business, I try to find a balance between economics, Mother Nature and our culture. I know that if we don’t treat our land properly, we will go out of business by our own hands. It is of utmost importance to us to be true conservationists if we want to continue producing the most nutritious and safest protein in the world.
“But all too often, I’m not given the autonomy to do so. I’m given rules, not a conversation about how ranchers and government officials and environmentalists might be able to work together. That’s an approach that fails everyone,” he says.
Nantz speaks very articulately about the reality of ranching in the West. His is a voice that is too seldom heard in all the clamor and noise that our modern Internet culture produces. I encourage you to read his words and then pass them on so more people can understand.
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